The basketball courts lie, like high-value chips a giant might play, across the vast floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center. 400 teams, 4,000 players ages 9-19, at the Jam On It AAU Tournament. There are 12 or 15 thousand parents, coaches, refs, and siblings, the kids in uniforms, almost all of us in baggy shorts.
It’s overwhelming and I am, at first, a bit huffy about it. Wondering why my son needs to fly to another state to play, remembering going every day to the park for pick-up games.
But it grows on me. The kids are black, brown, yellow, white, wealthy and working class, and there are almost as many girls as boys, practicing cross-over dribbles, slapping hands. Very focused.
The parents are generally as sweet to one another as they are passionate about the kids. Indeed, with the exception of the occasional spluttering coach and overbearing dad, everyone is so well behaved. It’s 21st century Walt Whitman.
I watch as my son Gabriel, very big for his age and less agile than his smaller teammates, turns for the first time from the high post for a lay-up. Hits the boards. I cheer wildly as he overcomes his hesitancy, to score with the surprisingly delicate touch I have seen in our one-on-one scrimmages.
Each move, it seems to me, signals the development of his character as well as some success on the court. Sturdier confidence, greater willingness to take chances, a capacity to listen to and learn from Jomar, his kind and tough coach, and maybe from me too.
By the 3rd day I’m cheering wildly and high-fiving Gabe’s mother Allison and nearby dads.
On my way home, I’m thinking about coming back next year.